Painting outside the lines

| Lisa Kao 30 Nov 2018

Erik Parker started his career just like his paintings - freestyle.

"I was a typical bad teenager back then," he said. "I left high school, skateboarded, drank beer and got into trouble with the law."

He remembered the time he had to make a choice - one that changed his life. "I was told that if I went to college, they would knock the time off. It sounded like a great idea and I liked that." He escaped going to jail at the age of 22, went to an arts school and started on his unusual creation path.

Neon colors and bustling composition are at the forefront of every one of his works.

But when asked where the inspiration for such combinations comes from, he rejects the idea that he gets his inspiration from any one source.

"For inspiration, I don't really have any."

The word "inspiration" makes Parker nervous. "To wake up everyday and keep breathing, that's inspiration. I'm inspired by just being alive," he continued.

For the German artist, inspiration comes from life. It may be something that was shown in the news, and that can, for example, be gleaned from his pyramidal painting Talking Point.

"The guns drawn here were probably because of a shooting accident, the tanks may be related to the Iraq war, while the black hands are from Black Lives Matter," said Parker, who spent his life in the United States.

His ideas also come from art legends. Two the Hard Way, a painting with two tomato-like objects in a plate, may remind people of famous still lifes.

"I just look at the book of a great artist, close the book and then draw it. Keep it simple."

Parker does it this way in order not to be influenced by other painters.

The 28 iconic Parker works on display at Nan Fung Centre's annex until December 7 span 20 years and shows him at different stages since 2001. From the earliest word paintings to calendar-like works on paper and shapes on canvas, Parker is always experimenting.

His early paintings of words that popped up in his mind won critical approval, but he did not want to be pigeonholed into a single style.

"I didn't want people to see me as an artist who only knew how to write on canvas, I wanted to move away from text, so I tried to create complicated branches to replace the words," he said.

It wasn't easy for him to figure out how to twist the branches, especially when he never drafted his work beforehand.

It took him around six months, longer than the usual one month to finish Self-made Man in 2009.

The difficulties did not stop him from exploring styles.

Parker later started to draw on paper with a style inspired by calendars, then created paintings on canvas of shapes like tall triangles and rectangles. "Why can't paintings be on various canvas shapes?" he asked.

Another reason behind the unique shaping is that Parker hopes the focus can be on canvas' edges where they are usually neglected.

"The edges in Western paintings are never really dealt with.

"I think about culture like hip hop music, which started within the parameters and worked their way out."

Pyramidal Chutzpah is painted just along the edges to put the focus on the sides. "What if I narrow the canvas like this? We can focus on the edge," he said.

"In the world of information overload, my paintings record this endless amount of information over a long period of time.

"I hope whoever gets to spend time looking at my paintings can see something new in it every time."

In another part of the exhibition, Millennial's Dilemma, 100 limited-edition skateboards symbolizing his rebellious young life and paintings are up for sale.

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